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May 7, 2013

Is a casino the best idea we have?

Vidya J. Narimalla

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There is a bit of a gambler in all of us.

The rush of excitement one feels at winning that free coffee when what we really want is the Rav 4. How about the raffle ticket we purchase because we want to find a cure for cancer while eyeing that luxury home we could win. In many ways, even our investment choices are a gamble, but I digress.

When I heard about the idea of bringing a casino to Kitchener, my first reaction was why? Is this the best idea we can come up with for economic development? Are we so desperate for money — any kind of money — that we have chosen to ignore the devastating effects of gambling? Do we not believe the many studies that have been done by reputable think-tanks and universities about casinos?

Instead of wrestling with innovative ideas for job creation and economic development, our governments are becoming like the tiger in the zoo that has lost its edge to hunt and is content to feed on the weak and those who can least afford another vice. They have developed a voracious appetite for lottery and gaming revenues.

I want to applaud Kitchener council for listening to the voices in the community. The second of two public meetings on the casino issue will be held Tuesday.

This is good. However, contemplating a casino doesn’t speak well of our priorities as a city.

Well-known U.S. billionaire Warren Buffet has a lot to say about casinos. He calls them a terrible way to raise money. “It’s a tax on ignorance. I don’t like the idea of the government depending, for certain portions of its revenue, on hoodwinking citizens. I think it’s cynical on the part of the state to raise money from people who basically can’t afford it by promising them a dream that is not going to come true,”

When we reflect on those statements, first we need to acknowledge the fact that Buffet knows a thing or two about raising money, and secondly, we need to seriously ask ourselves if this is indeed Kitchener’s best idea of safe and healthy community building.

Our city has a proud heritage. It’s one of people coming here with nothing but hopes and dreams of making a better life for themselves and for their children and grandchildren. Many realized their dreams by working hard, by being creative and coming up with innovative business ideas and they created jobs — good paying and long-lasting jobs.

A casino will never do that to any city. It is more like a swarm of locusts that invade a ripe field ready for harvesting, strip it naked and move on to the next field. We will be left to deal with the aftermath of problem gamblers, addictions, broken families, bankruptcies, crime, suicides and a host of other social issues.

We have enough pain and suffering as it is. Our social services are stretched and resources are limited. Why do we wish to buy more?

I am sure that everyone wishes for our city to prosper. Of that, I have no doubt. However, the negative impact and the many social costs of a casino in our community far outweigh the benefits it promises to deliver. It is a losing hand for all of us.

Richard Florida, head of the Rotman School of Management’s Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto was recently quoted by a Toronto newspaper columnist as saying: “Casinos are city ruiners. They generate a lot of social costs, and they’re a regressive form of taxation. They take money away from poor people.”

Kitchener is a great city to live and raise our families. Let’s keep it that way for our children and grandchildren.

Vidya J. Narimalla is the senior pastor at Kitchener’s Mennonite Brethren Church.

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